Emancipation Day is observed in many former European colonies in the Caribbean.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834.
In 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country to declare a national holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery.
On 1 August this year I was on vacation in Montreal, Canada and I felt compelled to delve into the Black History of that city. I lived in Montreal for four years and was never tuned into its Black History.
I booked this 2 hour walking tour, “Black History of Montreal” with Rito Joseph, through AirBnB Experiences. Rito is bilingual and offers this tour in both English and French.
Slavery in Canada is usually part of the story that is ignored. Most people like to preserve a human rights ideal in Canada without taking into account the fact this country was part of the colonial slave problem.
“Although it is true that Canada did not have as many slaves as the United States or the other British colonies, it is estimated that there were approximately 4,200 slaves in Canada between 1671 1834.” ~ Rito Joseph.
Rito asks his guests to meet him at in St. Hubert Street, Mont Royal to commence the tour. From there we take the Metro to Old Montreal.
The first stop, is a small site inconspicuous site, a public square dedicated to Marie-Joseph Angélique. Marie-Joseph was Portuguese born. It is not known when she was enslaved.
We needed to walk over to another location (a random back alley) to view the commemorative plaque of Marie-Joseph.
In 1734 Marie-Joseph was accused of setting Montreal’s Merchant Quarter on fire.
Marie-Joseph was reputed to have a rebellious spirit. Under torture she confessed to the crime and was then hanged. Her body was displayed on a gibbet for two hours. It was then placed on a pyre and burnt, her ashes gathered and cast to the winds.
There have been plays about Marie-Joseph and historical books in which she has been referenced.
After learning about Marie-Joseph, we got on the Metro again for the stop to George Vanier, to explore Little Burgundy (Petite Bourgogne) a historic working class neighborhood and bedrock of the black community, which once had a very vibrant Jazz scene, the “Harlem of the North”. This name came about because there was an influx of musicians from all over the world coming into that area of Montreal.
Oscar Peterson grew up in Little Burgundy. Peterson was a pianist and composer. He was called the “Maharaja of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington. He released over 200 recordings and won eight Grammy Awards.
Peterson’s sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney died in 2017 at the age of 97. She was piano teacher and musician and an inspiration to her brother and other jazz greats like Oliver Jones. Daisy also founded the Montreal Black Youth Choir.
She watched over so many people for so many years and the artist captured that.
Little Burgundy is experiencing gentrification.
Union United Church, which Nelson Mandela visited in 1990 . UUC had a committee dedicated to the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. He gave a speech in Champs-de-Mars in the vicinity.
Even while in prison, we came to know this city as a home of the struggle against apartheid, a friend of our people, an enemy of racist tyranny, and a source of strength to us, because the position you took served as assurance to all our people that nobody could deny us freedom.
Plaques outside the Union United Church.
With Rito’s tour, you get a chance to see Montreal which is not usually on the tourist maps or guides, but in reality the history is hidden in plain sight.
Rito is knowledgeable and passionate about Montreal’s black history. I commend Him for the research he has in order to create and provide this experience for visitors to Montreal.
Two of us took the tour with Rito that day.
Have you used AirBnB’s Experiences and do you prefer them to traditional tours?